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Final 25 May 2010

Nuclear Activities in Burma [short version]

Robert E. Kelley1
Ali Fowle2
Democratic Voice of Burma ©
May 25 2010

1
Consultant to the Democratic Voice of Burma
2
Editor and Research Assistant, DVB
Nuclear Activities in Burma [short version]
Introduction

A remarkable individual has come out of Burma to describe nuclear-related activities in that secretive
country. The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a non-profit broadcasting organization, has
interviewed this man at length and is presenting his evidence here for all to see. His name is Sai
Thein Win, and until recently he was a major in the Burmese army. He was trained in Burma as a
defense engineer, and later in Russia as a missile expert. He returned to Burma to work in special
factories, built to house modern European machining tools, to build prototypes for missile and
nuclear activities.

Sai brought with him some documents and color photographs of equipment built in these factories.
DVB is taking the extraordinary step of publishing some of these photos for all to see on the
worldwide web. DVB has arranged with experts to analyze what they have discovered. Others will no
doubt, want to weigh in and add their conclusions. No doubt, there will be detractors who do not
agree with the analysis and our conclusion that these objects are designed for use in a nuclear
weapons development program. We invite their criticism and hope that any additional analysis will
eventually reinforce our view that Burma is engaged in activities that are prohibited under
international agreements.

DVB has hundreds of other photos taken in Burma in closed facilities. They have many other
information sources and documents as well. They provide background information for the very
specific information Sai is providing.

In the last two years certain “laptop documents” have surfaced that purport to show that Iran is
engaged in a clandestine nuclear program. The origin of these documents is not clear but they have
generated a huge international debate over Iran’s intentions. The Burmese documents and
photographs brought by Sai are much closer to the original source materials and the route of their
disclosure is perfectly clear. The debate over these documents should be interesting in the
nonproliferation community.

Who is Sai Thein Win?

Sai was a major in the Burmese army. He saw a documentary program aired by the DVB about
special factories in Burma that had been built by the regime to make components for Weapons of
Mass Destruction (WMD). He worked in two of these factories and felt there was more that needed
to be conveyed outside Burma. Sai came out to Thailand to tell the world what he has seen and what
he was asked to do. What he has to say adds to the testimony of many other Burmese defectors, but
he supplements it with many color photos of the buildings and what they are building inside them. In
addition he can describe the special demonstrations he attended and can name the people and
places associated with the Burmese nuclear program that he visited.

Sai Thein Win reminds us of Mordecai Vanunu, an Israeli technician at the Dimona nuclear site in the
Negev desert. Vanunu took many photographs of activities in Israel that were allegedly related to
nuclear fuel cycle and weapons development. These photos were published in the Sunday Times in
London in 1986. They purportedly showed nuclear weapons activities in Israel at the time. Israel has
never confirmed that the images were taken in their facilities; much less that Israel even has a
nuclear weapons program. But Vanunu was abducted, tried in an Israeli court and sentenced to
many years in prison for divulging state secrets. Sai is providing similar information.

Figure 1. Sai Thein Win holding an impeller for a ballistic missile engine .He designed the program
to manufacture it on CNC machines from Europe
What is the Program that Sai Describes?

Sai tells us that he was tasked to make prototype components for missile and nuclear programs. He
is an experienced mechanical engineer and he is capable of describing machining operations very
accurately.

Sai has very accurately described a missile fuel pump impeller he made because he is trained as a
missile engineer. His information on nuclear programs is corroborated by many color photographs
and two visits to the nuclear battalion” at Thabeikkyin north of Mandalay. The Nuclear Battalion is
the organization charged with building up a nuclear weapons capability in Burma. The Nuclear
Battalion will try to do this by building a nuclear reactor and nuclear enrichment capabilities.

Figure 2. Buildings under construction at the Thabeikkyin Nuclear Battalion

It is the firm belief of the DVB consultants that Burma is probably not capable of building the
equipment they have been charged to build: to manufacture a nuclear weapon, to build a weapons
material supply, and to do it in a professional way. But the information provided by Sai and other
reporters from Burma clearly indicates that the regime has the intent to go nuclear and it is trying
and expending huge resources along the way.
There are Some Special Factories Filled with High Technology Machining

Equipment from Europe

Two companies in Singapore with German connections sold many machine tools to the government
of Burma, notably the Department of Technical and Vocational Education (DTVE). DTVE is closely
associated with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) which is subordinate to the Ministry of
Science and Technology (MOST). A great deal of information is known about people and
organizations in this chain. DTVE is probably a front for military purchasing for weapons of mass
destruction, that is to say nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver them,
largely missiles.

The German government did not have derogatory information about DTVE when the tools were sold
and allowed the sale. Fortunately, although the machine tools were very expensive and capable,
they were sold without all of the accessories to make the very precision parts required for many
missile and nuclear applications. These factories are only making prototypes and first models of
equipment for other research organizations. They are not making serial copies for a production
program and they do not do research themselves.

The companies believed the machines were to be used for educational and vocational training, but
the German government, suspicious about the end use, sent a diplomat and an expert to examine
the machines that were installed in two special factories in Burma.

The expert was suspicious that the machines would be used for uses other than training. There were
no students and no universities nearby. There were no women students. The expert noted that none
of the male students wore military uniforms. Democratic Voice of Burma has examined the photos
and some of the “students” who wore civilian clothes during the expert visit wear military uniforms
when the Europeans are not there.

Sai provided recognizable photos of the equipment installers and the Germans during their site visit.
This is one of many indications that he was at the factories and that his story is very credible. It is
also fortunate that the German government was diligent and visited these factories to verify the end
use. The Burmese were probably not telling the whole truth, but the visits allow serious verification
of the facts.
Figure 3. A floor plan of the many machine tools at Factory 2 near Myaing

Sai Describes Equipment the Nuclear Battalion is Building

Sai has provided DVB with many photos of things that the Nuclear Battalion at Thabeikkyin is
requesting. One of the most obvious ones is requested in an accompanying secret memo from the
No (1) Science and Technology Regiment at Thabeikkyin to the Special Factory Number One near
Pyin Oo Lwin3. It is for a “bomb reactor” for the “special substance production research department”
and there are some sketches of what is wanted as well as pictures. A bomb reactor in a nuclear
program is a special device for turning uranium compounds into uranium metal for use in nuclear
fuel or a nuclear bomb. The pictures and sketches are of such a bomb reactor and one of the ones
pictures has been subjected to high temperature. The paint is burned off and it has been used. It

3
“Request No (1) Science and Technological material production workshop to make Bomb Reactor needed for
research material for the use of special substance production research department at technological workshop (5).”
may be a design from a foreign country or a Burmese design. But the need for a bomb reactor in a
Burmese Nuclear Battalion is a strong signal that the project is trying to make uranium metal.
Whether the uranium metal is used in a plutonium production reactor or a nuclear device, Burma is
exploring nuclear technology that is useful only for weapons.

Figure 4. These are 'bomb reactors' likely used to convert uranium compounds into uranium metal
for bombs or reactor fuel

Sai also provided photos of chemical engineering machinery that can be used for making uranium
compounds such as uranium hexafluoride gas, used in uranium enrichment. He describes nozzles
used in advanced lasers that separate uranium isotopes into materials used for bombs. He provides
pictures of a vacuum glove box for mixing reactive materials (such as magnesium and UF4 powder)
and furnaces for making uranium compounds. All of these things could have other uses, but taken
together, in the context of the Nuclear Battalion, they are for a nuclear weapons program.
Figure 5. A group of Burmese military and civilian workers poses with a vacuum glove box they
built at Factory 1 near Pyin Oo Lwin

Sai has been told that the regime is planning to build a nuclear reactor to make plutonium for a
nuclear bomb. He has seen a demonstration of a reactor component called a “control rod” that fits
this story. He has been told that the regime plans to enrich uranium for a bomb and he has seen a
demonstration of a carbon monoxide laser that will be part of this enrichment process. He has
named the individuals he met and heard from at Thabeikkyin and they can be correlated through
open source information with their jobs for the Burmese Department of Atomic Energy. Many are
frequent visitors to IAEA grant training projects. He himself was tasked to make nozzles for the
carbon monoxide laser. He actually knows less about the chemical industrial equipment seen in his
photos than we can judge ourselves, but his overall story is quite interesting. It is also clear that
the demonstrations and explanations that he has seen are quite crude. If they are the best Burma
can do they have a long way to go.

How does Sai fit into the Overall Burma Story?


Sai is a mechanical engineer with experience in machining parts on highly specialized and modern
machine tools. These machine tools make items that are very precise and can be used in nuclear
energy programs or to make missiles. Sai is not a nuclear expert and he has little to say about the
things he made, or that his factory made other than what he was told about their uses. He does
provide photos of items that would be used in the nuclear industry to process uranium compounds
into forms used in the nuclear weapons development process. These photos or his descriptions could
be faked, but they are highly consistent with the uses he suggests.

Sai received a degree as a defense engineer in Burma. He then went to Russia to train in missile
technology at the prestigious Bauman Institute in Moscow. He can document all of this. His friends
went to Russia as well and studied nuclear and chemical technology at the Moscow Institute of
Engineering Physics MIFI) and the Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology. MIFI was the main
training institute for Soviet nuclear weapons designers for many years. The ones who studied
chemistry at Mendeleev are probably the ones who are most important in building the special
equipment that Sai knew about.

Stories about a Nuclear Reactor in Burma

There have many wild stories about a nuclear reactor in Burma. It is clear that Burma and Russia
considered building a 10 Megawatt (10 MW) research reactor in Burma in 2000. It is also clear that
this deal was not closed and that Russia announced only intent to build a 10 MW reactor around
2008. This reactor has not been built and Russia is highly unlikely to approve such a deal unless
Burma signs a new special agreement with the IAEA. This agreement is called an Additional Protocol
and Burma is very unlikely to sign it because it would give the IAEA the access it needs to discover a
clandestine nuclear program in Burma.

Furthermore, a 10 MW nuclear reactor is a very small concern for proliferation. Such reactors are
common in the world and they are simply too small to be of serious proliferation concern. They can
be used to teach students how to work in the nuclear area, but they are not appropriate to rapidly
make any serious quantities of plutonium for bombs. IAEA has standards for which reactors are
especially suitable for plutonium production and this proposed reactor is below that limit. It is
appropriate only for nuclear technology training and the production of medical radioisotopes. Local
production of medical isotopes is one of the main reasons for reactors in the 10 MW class around the
world. Burma could use this reactor for training, but reports that it bought a 10 MW reactor from
Russia are clearly untrue, and stories they want to build one of their own for a bomb program are
nonsense.

The idea that Burma is building a larger reactor, like the alleged one Israel destroyed in Syria is more
interesting. This could be a plutonium production reactor, like the 25 MW (thermal) one that DPRK
operated in Yongbyon in North Korea. The fact that DPRK would consider supporting nuclear
programs outside its own borders, in client states like Syria, is of serious concern when evaluating
Burma. DPRK does have a memorandum of understanding to help Burma build intermediate range
ballistic missiles but their role in the nuclear program is only anecdotal.

Is Burma Violating its International Agreements?

The most important agreement that Burma must satisfy is its agreement with the International
Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. It signed an agreement with IAEA in 1995 that it would not pursue
nuclear weapons under a carefully defined standard international legal agreement. A supplement to
this agreement, a so-called Small Quantities Protocol, said that Burma had no nuclear facilities and
very small amounts of nuclear materials, which it did not even have to itemize. As a result of this
declaration, which was accepted by IAEA, there are no nuclear safeguards inspections in Burma.
There are some IAEA visits to Burma, because Burma is a recipient of IAEA scientific grant money.
Some of these grants train Burmese scientists for nuclear activities that could enable them to
produce nuclear materials, but these are not the majority of the grants.

Burma has certified that it has no nuclear facilities, has minimal nuclear materials, and has no plans
to change this situation. The information brought by Sai suggests that Burma is mining uranium,
converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is trying to build a reactor and or
an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb. There is no chance that these activities are
directed at a reactor to produce electricity in Burma. This is beyond its engineering capabilities. It is
up to Burma to notify the IAEA if these conditions have changed. Clearly, if it is trying to secretly
build a bomb and is breaking these rules it will not be voluntarily notifying the IAEA.

Burma has also purchased high quality machine tools from a German machine tool broker in
Singapore that can be used for weapons of mass destruction manufacture. These tools could be
used to make many things but they are of a size and quality that are not consistent with student
training, the declared end use.

The Department of Technical and Vocational training is a front for weapons procurement and is
associated with the DAE and MOST. All of these departments, programs, and people associated with
them, should be sanctioned and prohibited from buying anything that could contribute to weapons
programs.
What is the state of Burma’s nuclear program?

We have examined the photos of the Burmese nuclear program very carefully and looked at Sai's
evidence. The quality of the parts they are machining is poor. The mechanical drawings to produce
these parts in a machine shop are unacceptably poor. If someone really plans to build a nuclear
weapon, a very complex device made up of precision components, then Burma is not ready. This
could be because the information brought by Sai is not complete or because Burma is playing in the
field but is not ready to be serious. In any case, nothing we have seen suggests Burma will be
successful with the materials and component we have seen.

What is significant is intent. Burma is trying to mine uranium and upgrade uranium compounds
through chemical processing. The photos show several steps in this intent. Burma is reported to be
planning and building a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and is trying to enrich uranium to make a
bomb. These activities are inconsistent with their signed obligations with the IAEA.

Even if Burma is not able to succeed with their illegal program, they have set off alarm bells in the
international community devoted to preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation. The IAEA
should ask Burma if its stated declarations are true. If these allegations appear real there should be
follow-up questions and inspections of alleged activities. This effort will be hampered by Burma’s
failure to sign the Additional Protocol. Under the current Small Quantities Protocol Agreement, IAEA
has no power to inspect in Burma.

Burma is also trying to build medium range missiles such as SCUDs under a memorandum of
understanding with the DPRK. SCUDS are not likely to carry a Burmese nuclear warhead because
first generation nuclear warheads are usually too heavy and large for the SCUD missile. But there is
little reason to embark on SCUD missiles and nuclear weapons other than to threaten one’s near
neighbors. Burma is ruled by a junta that has no real political philosophy other than greed. The junta
rules for the purpose of enriching a small cadre with the rich resources of the country: teak, gold,
jade, other minerals and the labor of the people. Like their model, the DPRK, the junta hopes to
remain safe from foreign interference by being too dangerous to invade. Nuclear weapons
contribute to that immunity.

Conclusions
DVB has interviewed many sources from inside Burma’s military programs. Many other researchers
are interviewing former Burmese military people, for example Dictator Watch4 and Desmond Ball

4
RUSSIA-BURMA NUCLEAR INTELLIGENCE REPORT, By Roland Watson June 26, 2008
with Phil Thornton5. They have provided anecdotal evidence pointing to a Burmese nuclear weapons
program. Sai has clarified these reports and added to them with color photos and personal
descriptions of his visits to the Nuclear Battalion. He trained in Moscow in missile technology along
with friends who trained in nuclear technology who later vanished into the Nuclear Battalion of
Thabeikkyin. All were trained in some of Russia’s first quality institutes.

The total picture is very compelling. Burma is trying to build pieces of a nuclear program, specifically
a nuclear reactor to make plutonium and a uranium enrichment program. Burma has a close
partnership with the DPRK. DPRK has recently been accused of trying to build a nuclear reactor
inside Syria to make plutonium for a nuclear program in Syria or the DPRK. The time frame of DPRK
assistance to Syria is roughly the same as Burma so the connection may not be coincidental.

If Burma is trying to develop nuclear weapons the international community needs to react. There
needs to be a thorough investigation of well-founded reporting. If these reports prove compelling,
then there need to be sanctions of known organizations in Burma and for equipment for any
weapons of mass destruction.

Source link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/32521570/Nuclear-in-Burma#source:facebook

5
Burma’s Nuclear Secrets, August 1, 2009, Desmond Ball and Phil Thornton, Sydney Morning Herald.